Case study

Rights manager — Laura

Read how research helped Laura secure her first job in a publishing rights department…

How did you get your job?

I fully researched the company I was applying to, in order to be well informed; learning about their current turnover, group structure and their bestsellers and most popular titles.

It paid off as I successfully landed the position of rights assistant.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

It wasn't essential, but being a language speaker definitely helps. The rarer the language, the more likely you are to be hired, particularly in markets where English is not the first language. If you can sublicense rights into those markets, being able to speak the language is a goldmine.

However, being able to demonstrate that you're organised, a team player and can convey complex concepts in simple terms is far more important.

What are your main work activities?

I now hold the position of rights manager in the same company and head up a team of three people, which is quite small for a rights department at an academic publisher.

My day starts with checking that my team all know what they're doing, then checking my own emails and attending meetings. My area covers publication ethics, our copyright and licensing policies, as well as our revenue streams (reproduction rights organisations, permissions and translations.)

I liaise with authors and editors to ensure they're happy with our licensing policies and that they are clear on the concept of third party rights. There can be situations where conversations become quite fraught and it's important to stay calm and diplomatic. I will then review any ongoing negotiations for translations of our books, as well as scoping out any potential new licensees.

I'm very fortunate in my role that I travel quite a bit, so I will usually be found preparing for my next trip.

How has your role developed and what are your ambitions?

I have slowly climbed the ladder at my current place of work; being a rights assistant was invaluable as I had the chance to learn about the broader scope of academic publishing and the part rights plays in it.

I'm on an industry board so I get to talk to other publishers and this has helped my self-confidence a great deal.

My ultimate career ambition would be to become head of rights for an academic or trade publisher.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I like the fact that I can see the tangible outputs of what I do. I still remember the first time I saw the Romanian edition of a book I had licensed, I helped to make that happen and it made me happy to think that it had reached an extended audience. On the other side of it, I find it really satisfying when I've resolved a tricky situation, but kept everyone happy. It can feel like defusing a bomb at times.

I've had some truly amazing experiences travelling to places that I would never otherwise do. I also like the fact that I am contributing to the wider knowledge of humanity; some of the research we publish really benefits people and stands the test of time.

What are the most challenging parts of your job?

There are occasions when I'd like to just be able to come in and switch off but that is not possible in rights, as the work constantly engages you and requires you to think laterally in every way.

Additionally, while it's an amazing thing, the travel can get quite tiring as the majority of travel requires long-haul flights, so there are a lot of missed weekends and family occasions.

Any words of advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

There is a huge distinction between academic (journals, textbook) and trade (novels, etc.) publishing. Trade publishing is exceptionally hard to get into and may require undertaking a work placement, but will mean that you're potentially handling the rights of the next J.K. Rowling.

Academic publishing is easier to get into; however, it can be 'drier' at times. I would recommend gaining as much work experience as you can, either clerical or publisher-related.

When applying for jobs in publishing or rights, don't say that you've applied because you like to read, there is nothing that makes hiring managers roll their eyes more.

Instead, demonstrate your passion for the company you're applying to, keep abreast of the latest industry blogs (Scholarly Kitchen, The Bookseller) and try to familiarise yourself with some of the jargon.

A basic understanding of UK/US copyright law is always good too.

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